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Judge Shuts Down Interior Department's Internet
WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday once again ordered the Interior Department to pull the plug on most of its Internet connections, after finding that the department still hadn't fixed computer security problems that could jeopardize millions of dollars in royalties for American Indians.
It is the third time that U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has ordered the systems to be disconnected to protect oil, gas, timber and grazing royalties held in trust for the Indians.
"The interest of the 300,000-plus current beneficiaries of the individual Indian trust outweigh the potential inconvenience of those parties that would otherwise have access to Interior's Internet services," Lamberth wrote.
An Interior Department spokesman could not immediately comment on the decisions.
The judge allowed all emergency systems, such as those that deal with law enforcement or fire fighting, to remain connected. The National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey, and Interior's budget office, will also remain connected, because they convinced the court that they have fixed their lapses.
Lamberth said the move was necessary because the department refused to work with Special Master Alan Balaran to fix holes in the computer security, which has been widely criticized in government reviews as being deficient.
The department has accused Balaran of being biased. Lamberth denied the department's request to remove him from the case.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 300,000 American Indian landowners. The department was assigned in 1887 to manage royalties from lands held in trust for the Indians. But over time, the lands were poorly managed and money was squandered, stolen or never collected.
The Indians sued in 1996, demanding an accounting that had been ordered by Congress two years earlier. In 1999, Lamberth said the department must account for the money and repair its management flaws.
Since then, however, the case has bogged down in court fights and congressional maneuvering. Interior insists that just a few million dollars are owed to the Indian landowners. The Indians' attorneys contend it is likely tens of billions of dollars.
Lamberth first disconnected the systems in 2001, after Balaran determined that even a novice hacker could penetrate the security and access data for the Indian revenues. To prove his point, Balaran, working with the court, repeatedly penetrated the system's security and set up a bogus account in his name.
The move left the public unable to access information about popular national parks and monuments and made it difficult for Interior agencies to communicate with one another. Emergency services were allowed to remain connected, and service was restored as gaps were fixed.
The judge ordered a second, limited shutdown last June, after the department first resisted Balaran's oversight.
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